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This month, Riot “banned” three teams from participating in the North American League of Legends Championship Series.  You can read about the details here from our own Reagan Cox.  To the uninformed or uneducated, this appears to be Riot dropping the hammer on shady team owners and preserving the integrity of their sport.

It would appear that way, but those of us who remember history remember a time when Riot couldn’t care less about the integrity of their sport.

A Fantastic Voyage to WCG 2011

Let’s grab Sherman, Mr. Peabody, and the Wabac machine and go back to the World Cyber Games North American Championship in 2011.  The final match for the WCG NA championship was contested between Team Dignitas and CDE where the winner would be crowned NA champion and receive a spot in the LoL grand final in Korea.

If one looks at the WCG rules for League of Legends NA championship as they were on October 28, 2011, one would find 2 very interesting things.  First, the format for the finals of the NA championship was to be a Best of 3 Games series format, under double elimination conditions, where the team from the winners bracket would receive a 1-0 games advantage in the final series.

The second thing one will notice is the final line item under the section called “Final Provisions.”  This line item says any rule can be changed at any time for any reason at the sole discretion of the tournament referees, so long as that referee can hand-wave away the rules change as “a difference between online and offline tournaments.”  Write that down, because it is going to be of paramount importance in a second.

As the story was told, Dignitas accepted a 1-0 games lead in a single Best of 3, and proceeded to lose 2 straight to lose the series, and presumably the NA championship to CDE.  After the result was in hand, Dignitas contacted WCG officials about whether the format should have been a Best of 3 Games or a Best of 3 Sets—a set is commonly comprised of a Best of 3 Games series.  WCG officials decreed the finals should be Best of 3 Sets, and the rule was changed.  As you can see in the rules as documented on November 1, 2011, the provision that any rule can change at any time for any reason whatsoever was invoked as the reason why Dignitas was given both a 1 game and a 1 set advantage in a Best of 3 Sets final.

Before I continue with the story, I need to stop and talk about how catastrophically underhanded and compromising to the integrity of e-sports this move was, as well as what the ruling by WCG and Riot should have been.

A Screwjob Worthy of Montreal

By making this request and getting WCG to change the rules on the fly after an advantage had been granted, and a result was in hand, Dignitas put CDE in a position where they had to win 2 games in a row and 4 games out of 5 to win the NA championship.  Had the proper advantage been given in the first place, CDE would have had to win 2 games out of 3 twice, or 4 out of 6.  It doesn’t sound like much of a difference on paper, but remember CDE played the first 2 games under what they thought were sudden death—lose one game, and you’re eliminated—conditions.

I can’t stress enough the toll this must have taken on CDE, and the mental and emotional advantage Dignitas obtained by getting the format changed after a tournament result was in hand.  Playing back-to-back games under sudden death conditions takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on players.  I’ve played in many athletic tournaments where sudden death conditions were present.  Your adrenaline is flowing; every motion must be more precise; the cumulative effect of every mistake is compounded.  It is not an easy task to win a game. Add to this the relief derived from overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, having that relief stolen from you, and then having to play up to another 3 games against some of the best competition in the world.  To say CDE was climbing an impossible hill at the point the rules shenanigans were finished would not be an understatement.

What the WCG and, ultimately, Riot officials should have done was acknowledge that an advantage had already been taken and squandered by Dignitas.  If Dignitas insisted on having a Best of 3 Sets final, which of course they would have, then they would do so already being down a set with no set advantage from being the team from the winners bracket, since that advantage had already been granted.  It didn’t happen this way, of course, with completely predictable results.

Result of the NA Screwjob

So when I tell everyone Dignitas capitalized on whining to WCG officials and won the NA championship after CDE had beaten them, no one should be surprised.  The whole thing was and is an embarrassment, more so when you think about how none of this would  have happened had Dignitas won 1 of the 2 games in the original Best of 3 Games final.

Compounding the embarrassment is Riot’s complacency in the entire event.  Not only was Voyboy and Dignitas not punished for decimating the integrity of a feeder tournament to a world championship for Riot’s game, but Riot acted as an enabler for this act of larceny to take place.  Don’t misunderstand and think I place the blame solely on Riot; everyone is to blame from WCG and Riot to Voyboy and Dignitas.  The only people in the whole story who are completely blameless are CDE, and they ultimately were the ones who got punished by what went down at WCG 2011.

So, hopefully readers will understand why I consider this month’s announced bans as Much Ado About Nothing.  We’ve seen far worse in terms of compromising the integrity of professional League of Legends in the past, and not only was Riot complacent in compromising the integrity of their own sport, not only did they not lift a finger to punish the offenders, they enabled the offenses to take place.

I imagine the thought process is I’m supposed to forget Riot’s mismanagement of WCG 2011 because World Cyber Games doesn’t exist anymore and Dignitas had to sell their NA team’s LCS spot due to totally unrelated rules.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

I can’t do that.  I can’t turn a blind eye to events that were relatively worse for the “sport” and resulted in no punishments than what happened this month that warranted bans.  I can easily make the case that what Voyboy and Dignitas did at WCG 2011 was relatively worse for e-sports than what Pete Rose did in Major League Baseball  that earned him a lifetime ban.  I don’t think fans of e-sports should turn a blind eye to this shady past, either.

That said, I don’t know how e-sports critics and fans alike get satisfaction for how shady and embarrassing WCG 2011 was.  It doesn’t seem quite right to ban Dignitas now for transgressions from 5 years ago.  It doesn’t seem right to ban the players who were on Dignitas at the time events unfolded, who may or may not have had anything to do with compromising the integrity of WCG beyond losing the initial 2 games of the NA final.  What I do know is what happened at WCG 2011 will be all the ammunition I ever need to criticize Riot, League of Legends, and e-sports forever.

Sound off Raptor Nation: Am I being too critical of what happened at WCG 2011, and Riot’s mismanagement?  Should I give Riot a break going forward?

Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.